Mary Lou Wehrli: Candidate profile, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Republican incumbent Mary Lou Wehrli of Naperville and Democratic challenger Barbara O'Meara of Naperville are vying for the District 5 seat on the DuPage County Forest Preserve in the Nov. 3 general election.

Wehrli has served as commissioner since 2012. Before that she served nine years on the Naperville Park District board, including one year as president, and served as co-chair of DuPage Neighbors for Open Space, Clean Water and Clean Air.

To explore her campaign website, check

District 5 serves all or parts of Warrenville, Aurora, Naperville, Lisle and Woodridge.

The Daily Herald asked the candidates to answer a series of questions. Here are Wehrli's replies.

Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?

A: Respect. Action. Accountability. I found these things missing from district leadership during my quest to get the Jefferson to Ogden multiuse trail built.

That was 2008. Since being elected as commissioner in 2012, I have stood strong against bullying, opacity, exclusion and fear. The first five years of my service saw seven executive directors. Current stable leadership has created an environment of transparency, calm, and accomplishment.

I am running to contribute my passion for communication, clarity, connection to history and community, and to empower everyone who takes an interest in the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to understand it and constructively participate. I am a catalyst.

Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your two biggest contributions to the board. If you are a non-incumbent, describe two ways you would contribute to the board.

A: Asking questions. Being informed: reading agenda and support material, visiting affected sites, responding to the public. Demonstrating courtesy, kindness and humor. Respecting the role of the executive director as the commission's only employee. I show up.

Specific joys: elimination of pensions for elected officials, reduction of elected official salaries, removal of elected official names on district signage. Online registration for permits and programs. Replacement of McDowell bridge. Improved landscaping behind big box stores.

Q: What role should the forest preserve play in preserving historic buildings on its land?

A: The district vision statement “ ... envisions a community in which all citizens share a connection with nature and an appreciation for cultural history.”

The district should approve a master plan specific to each cultural site. The plan should include projected annual budgets and be reviewed every 10 years. The district should encourage partnerships that welcome passionate citizens, attract substantial resources, and empowers operations and maintenance by others with the district committed to support of capital assets.

This may be more clearly achieved with adjustment to the Downstate Forest Preserve Act.

Q: How would you rate the job the commission is doing to develop existing forest preserves and make them accessible to residents? How would you approach things differently?

A: I give the district high marks on restoration of land and waterways. Outside funding has been provided (earned!) to accomplish goals across a variety of landscapes.

The master plan addresses certain areas in need of improved parking. Trail connections continue to be implemented. I am particularly following Mack Road and East Branch River Trail details.

I would approach things differently by creating a 1/5/10-year Capital Improvement Plan. Such a document would align district resources with potential partnerships, internal budgeting, and public expectations.

Q: What is the most important issue facing the forest preserves in your district and how should it be addressed?

A: District 5 includes 12 forest preserves totaling approximately 3,000-acres; 11.5% of district land.

Existing partnerships with the city of Naperville, Naperville Park District and Lisle Park District contribute to the success of the forest preserves in District 5. The most important issue facing District 5 will be getting its share of any future bond issues. The cow grazes in District 5, but the milk often goes to other districts. It's time for District 5 to engage more with Aurora, specifically their development plans as they may relate to Big Woods Forest Preserve. The Greene Barn and Oak Cottage are immediately adjacent to District 5. There are no facilities in the south part of the county. I support the work to open the Greene Barn to public use.

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